The latest installment of the Terminator franchise may find itself a victim of its own success. The first film, released in 1984, drew audiences not only for its groundbreaking special effects but also for a then-fresh story concept-that machines could become self-aware and exterminate their human creators with their own ultimate warrior. Since then series like the Matrix have upped the ante on what computers are capable of, making the image of the lone cyborg destroyer a little tired. That doesn't mean Terminator Salvation isn't a serviceable popcorn flick; it just doesn't pack the punch the franchise did in the old days.
The film opens on the one point on the timeline the franchise hasn't explored: the middle. Fans have been to the past, they've been to the future, and now they get the chance to see the frontlines of the resistance fighting against the evil master-computer Skynet. John Connor (Christian Bale) is now a husband and father, struggling to take his place as mankind's last hope against the machines. Kyle Reese, the soldier sent to the past to protect John's mother, Sarah, in the first Terminator film is a teenager who has been captured and taken to Skynet Central. To protect his past and humanity's future, John must rescue the man who will one day save Sarah Connor and become John's father.
While the sights and sounds of the Skynet military forces hunting down the rag-tag army are all that an adrenaline-junkie could wish for, the human element falls flat. With the exceptions of Bryce Dallas Howard as John's wife Kate and Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese, nearly every actor plays his part with such grim determination that it feels more like machines fighting machines. The good news for parents is that director McG does away with most of the foul language and all of the nudity and sexuality that popped up in the first two movies, earning his film a PG-13 rating.